Category Archives: Secrecy

TTIP leaks throw trade deal into state of chaos


Germans marck in Hanover in one of the scores of protests which have erupted across Europe in the wake of the Greenpeace leak of key secret documents in the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership [TTIP] trade agreement.

Germans march in Hanover in one of the scores of protests which have erupted across Europe in the wake of the Greenpeace leak of key secret documents in the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership [TTIP] trade agreement.

When Greenpeace leaked key sections of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership [TTIP] [previously] to European media, most notably reporters at the venerable Süddeutsche Zeitung, Barack Obama’s must’ve uttered a cruse, or at least grabbed for a Marlboro.

As senator from Illinois, Obama was a steadfast ally of Monsanto and its drive to gain control over the world’s agriculture through its genetically engineered crops and patented herbicides used to ensure their survival.

But the TTIP leaks have set off a mighty uproar in Europe, derailing any chance the deal will be done while Obama’s still in the White House.

Larry Elliott, the Guardian’s economics editor, explains why:

Was it really feasible that TTIP could be pushed through in little more than three years? Not a chance.

There are three reasons for that. First, the main barriers to trade between the US and the EU are not traditional tariff barriers, which have been steadily whittled away in the decades since the second world war, but the differing regulatory regimes that operate on either side of the Atlantic. America and Europe have different views on everything from GM food to safety standards on cars so harmonising standards was always going to take a lot of time.

Second, the talks have involved controversial issues and have been taking place when trust in politicians and business has rarely been lower. The main driving forces behind TTIP have been multinational corporations and business lobby groups, who stand to gain from harmonised regulations. With information about the secret negotiations having to be chiselled out by groups hostile to TTIP, voters have drawn the obvious conclusion: the aim of the talks is to enrich big business even if it means playing fast and loose with environmental and health standards.

Which leads to the final and most important factor: there are no votes in trade. It would have been no surprise had Angela Merkel voiced strong opposition to the state of the TTIP negotiations, given the level of public antipathy to the trade deal in Germany and her delicate position in the polls ahead of elections next year.

Instead, the German chancellor was beaten to it by François Hollande (also facing a showdown with the voters in 2017) who has made it clear he will not sign TTIP in its current form. Years not months of hard slog lie ahead, by which time the US is likely to have a president much less wedded to the idea of striking trade deals. TTIP has just been kicked into the long grass for a very long time, and perhaps for good.

Publication of the leaks has also roused public opinion in Germany, as revealed in a new poll reported by Deutsche Welle:

A new poll published on Wednesday assessing German attitudes toward the government found that a clear majority of people view the trade deal as harmful and worry it could undermine consumer protection.

According to the survey, conducted by German broadcaster ARD, 70 percent of the participants said they believe the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) has more disadvantages than it does advantages. That’s a steep increase from the 2014 survey, which found that 55 percent of Germans viewed the agreement negatively.

Seventeen percent of participants said they saw the deal as being advantageous for Germany, while 13 percent said they didn’t know or had no position.

Additionally, 79 percent of the survey’s participants said they believed the agreement would hurt consumer protection, while 83 percent expressed dissatisfaction with the secretive way in which the government handled the negotiations.

There’s lots more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

More leaks suspected, these for private profit


In today’s world, most leaks are kept quiet, and are often highly profitable.

If state espionage, as Phillip Knightley famously wrote, is the second oldest profession. we suspect corporate espionage, the pursuit of secret information for private profit, may well be the third.

And judging by this story from Reuters, it’s as profitable as ever these day:

Investors earned millions of dollars in profits from correctly betting on market moves ahead of sensitive U.S. economic data, suggesting leaks of key indicators, a European Central Bank research paper said on Monday.

Studying moves in the case of 21 market-moving indicators between 2008 and 2014, 11 showed some pre-announcement price drift consistent with the announcement surprise, with seven of them indicating substantial moves, the authors said in the paper, which does not necessarily represent the ECB’s opinion.

“Based on a back-of-the-envelope calculation, we estimate that since 2008 in the S&P E-mini futures market alone the profits associated with trading prior to the official announcement release time have amounted to about $20 million per year,” the authors said.

“Prices start to move about 30 minutes before the official release time, and this pre-announcement price move accounts on average for about a half of the total price adjustment.”

Headline of the day II: UC Follies show continues


From ProPublica, the University of California administration never fails to not disappoint:

University of California Regent Violated Ethics Rules, Review Finds

A secret 2015 report found that a doctor on the UC board of regents tried to negotiate a deal between his eye clinics and UCLA, and engaged in discussions in which he had a financial interest. He denied wrongdoing but resigned as chair of the regents’ health committee.

The TTIP pact leaks drop like a digital bombshell


German Greenpeace activists project the leaked TOOIP documents on the walls of the Reichstag building in Berlin.

German Greenpeace activists project the leaked TPIP documents on the walls of the Reichstag building in Berlin.

The one thing the Internet does extremely well is to provide citizens of the world a first-hand look at documents the powerful try desperately to keep secret, documents we should all known about if we are to make uniformed choices about our lives.

And the latest online bombshell [previously] comes from the Netherlands, it’s subject the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership — the largest trade agreement in history, negotiated in secret by representatives of corporations, banks, and national and regional governments on both sides of the Atlantic.

From Greenpeace Netherlands:

Today Greenpeace Netherlands releases secret documents of the EU-US TTIP negotiations. On www.ttip-leaks.org the documents will be made available for everyone to read, because democracy needs transparency.

“These documents make clear the scale and scope of the trade citizens of the United States and the European Union are being asked to make in pursuit of corporate profits. It is time for the negotiations to stop, and the debate to begin.

Should we be able to act when we have reasonable grounds to believe our health and wellbeing is at risk, or must we wait until the damage is done?

Were our governments serious in Paris when they said they would do what was necessary to protect the planet, and keep climate change under 1.5 degrees?

Environmental protection should not be seen as a barrier to trade, but as a safeguard for our health, and the health of future generations.

We call on citizens, civil society, politicians and businesses to engage in this debate openly and without fear. We call on the negotiators to release the latest, complete text to facilitate that discussion, and we ask that the negotiations be stopped until these questions, and many more have been answered. Until we can fully engage in a debate about the standards we and our planet need and want” – Sylvia Borren, Executive Director Greenpeace Netherlands.

A report from RT offers some context:

While the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the US and Europe is set to create the world’s largest free trade zone, many Europeans worry the agreement would elevate corporate interest above national interest. TTIP opponents say that cheaper goods and services would only hurt the EU and help the US.

Europeans argue that international corporations would be given power at the expensive of small and medium-sized businesses. The secrecy surrounding the negotiations has also come under fierce criticism.

Just a day before Obama’s visit to Germany, thousands of anti-TTIP protesters hit the streets of Hanover.

According to a recent survey conducted by pollsters YouGov on behalf of the Bertelsmann Foundation, only 17 percent of Germans think the TTIP is a good thing, down from 55 percent two years ago. In the United States, only 18 percent of people now support the deal, compared to 53 percent in 2014.

More from Foreign Policy, including the sense of urgency driving the Obama administration in its mania to gut the European regulatory regime:

Less than two weeks after Obama made his pitch to Europe for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, documents leaked by Greenpeace on Monday are giving many European opponents of the deal further ammunition to shoot it down. The secret documents show, among other things, “irreconcilable” differences in some areas, and that the two sides are still at odds over U.S. demands that would require the EU to break environmental protection promises.

“Discussions on cosmetics remain very difficult and the scope of common objectives fairly limited,” reads an internal note by EU trade negotiators. Because of a European ban on animal testing, “the EU and U.S. approaches remain irreconcilable and EU market access problems will therefore remain,” the note says.

Proponents of the deal, which would cover more than 800 million people, scrambled into damage control mode Monday. “In that sense, many of today’s alarmist headlines are a storm in a teacup,” Cecilia Malmström, the European Union’s trade commissioner, said in a blog post.

>snip<

If the deal gets pushed to the next administration, Obama will be forced to abandon not just TTIP, but likely the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive, 12-nation Asia trade deal that covers nearly 40 percent of global GDP. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have warned the president that there are not enough votes to get it through Congress. Obama wants both deals done before he leaves the Oval Office.

European reservations on the rise

Deutsche Welle’s report on the leak notes Obama’s central role in pushing for the pact:

In April, Obama defended the necessity of the trade deal, which would currently cover roughly one-third of global trade, prior to his arrival in Hanover, where demonstrators called for the negotiations to be suspended.

“There’s still barriers that exist that prevent businesses and individuals that are providing services to each other to be able to do so seamlessly,” Obama told British broadcaster BBC. “The main thing between the United States and Europe is trying to just break down some of the regulatory differences that make it difficult to do business back and forth.”

However, German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who also serves as deputy chancellor, said the trade deal would “fail” if Washington did not offer concessions.

“The Americans want to hold on to their ‘Buy American’ idea. We can’t accept that. They don’t want to open their public tenders to European companies. For me that goes against free trade” Gabriel told German business newspaper “Handelsblatt” recently.” If the Americans stick to this position, we don’t need the free trade treaty. And TTIP will fail.”

There’s lots more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Big Brother’s panopticon chills online searches


It’s no secret that we’ve long suspected that the revelations of NSA’s panopticon powers would result in self-censorship online, and now we have evidence in the form of an academic study published right here in Berkeley.

Chilling Effects: Online Surveillance and Wikipedia Use [PDF] has just appeared online from the Berkeley Technology Law Journal, and it’s well worth a read.

Reuters sums up:

Internet traffic to Wikipedia pages summarizing knowledge about terror groups and their tools plunged nearly 30 percent after revelations of widespread Web monitoring by the U.S. National Security Agency, suggesting that concerns about government snooping are hurting the ordinary pursuit of information.

A forthcoming paper in the Berkeley Technology Law Journal analyzes the fall in traffic, arguing that it provides the most direct evidence to date of a so-called “chilling effect,” or negative impact on legal conduct, from the intelligence practices disclosed by fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Author Jonathon Penney, a fellow at the University of Toronto’s interdisciplinary Citizen Lab, examined monthly views of Wikipedia articles on 48 topics identified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as subjects that they track on social media, including Al Qaeda, dirty bombs and jihad.

In the 16 months prior to the first major Snowden stories in June 2013, the articles drew a variable but an increasing audience, with a low point of about 2.2 million per month rising to 3.0 million just before disclosures of the NSA’s Internet spying programs. Views of the sensitive pages rapidly fell back to 2.2 million a month in the next two months and later dipped under 2.0 million before stabilizing below 2.5 million 14 months later, Penney found.

Here’s a chart from page 37 of the paper dramatically illustrating the decline:

BLOG Terror

More details from Abhimanyu Ghoshal of The Next Web:

In his paper, ‘Chilling Effects: Online Surveillance and Wikipedia Use’, Penney looked at monthly views on Wikipedia pages for 48 topics that the US Department of Homeland Security said it tracks on social media, including ‘Al Qaeda’, ‘terror’, ‘weapons grade’, ‘Abu Sayyaf’, ‘Iran’, ‘extremism’, ‘Nigeria’ and jihad.

He noted that in the 16 months prior to Snowden’s first big reveal, the articles drew between 2.2 million views per month rising to 3 million. After Snowden went public, those figures fell below 2 million before stabilizing at just under 2.5 million 14 months later.

Penney’s paper highlights the ‘chilling effect’ of the government’s snooping programs, which refers to the discouragement of the legitimate exercise of legal rights by the threat of legal sanction – in this case, to seek information and learn about what’s going on around the world.

And the money quote from page 40 of the study itself:

Skepticism among courts, legal scholars, and empirical researchers has persisted about the nature, extent, and even existence of chilling effects due, in large part, to a lack of empirical substantiation. The results in this case study, however, provide empirical evidence consistent with chilling effects on the activities of Internet users due to government surveillance. And, to be clear, the activity here is not only legal—accessing information on Wikipedia—but arguably desirable for a healthy democratic society. It involves Internets users informing themselves about important topics subject to today’s widespread social, political, moral, and public policy debates. The large, statistically significant, and immediate drop in total views for the Wikipedia articles after June 2013 implies a clear and immediate chilling effect. Moreover, the broad and statistically significant shift in the overall trend in the data (e.g. the shift from the second results excluding outliers) suggests any chilling effects observed may be substantial and long-term, rather than weak, temporary, or ephemeral. This study also bolsters support for the existence of the chilling due to the data upon which it relies. It is among the first studies to demonstrate evidence of such a chilling effect using web traffic data (instead of survey responses or search), and the first to do so in relation both to the potential chilling effects on Wikipedia use, and, more broadly, how such government surveillance and other actions impact how people access and obtain information and knowledge online.

We leave the last word to Glenn Greenwald, writing at The Intercept:

The fear that causes self-censorship is well beyond the realm of theory. Ample evidence demonstrates that it’s real – and rational. A study from PEN America writers found that 1 in 6 writers had curbed their content out of fear of surveillance and showed that writers are “not only overwhelmingly worried about government surveillance, but are engaging in self-censorship as a result.” Scholars in Europe have been accused of being terrorist supporters by virtue of possessing research materials on extremist groups, while British libraries refuse to house any material on the Taliban for fear of being prosecuted for material support for terrorism.

There are also numerous psychological studies demonstrating that people who believe they are being watched engage in behavior far more compliant, conformist and submissive than those who believe they are acting without monitoring. That same realization served centuries ago as the foundation of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon: that behaviors of large groups of people can be effectively controlled through architectural structures that make it possible for them to be watched at any given movement even though they can never know if they are, in fact, being monitored, thus forcing them to act as if they always are being watched. This same self-censorsing, chilling effect of the potential of being surveilled was also the crux of the tyranny about which Orwell warned in 1984:

There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You have to live – did live, from habit that became instinct – in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.

Well, not quite the last word. Undoubtedly, the net beneficiaries of the reluctance of the populace to look deeper into issues of terrorism serves the interests of a government with a vested interest in keeping secret many of its operations and deepest political motives. . .

Drones, deaths, and the toxic legacy of Vietnam


The Vietnam war was America’s first and last experiment in allowing journalists unrestricted access to one of this country’s imperial wars.

Because journalists were able to hitch rides on helicopters and air transport planes, they saw death in the raw, and the images and stories they produced led directly to a militant antiwar movement and massive demonstrations, often violently repressed.

Journalists in subsequent wars to consolidate the global reach of the United States were tightly controlled, leading to the concept of embedding, where journalists were assigned to particular units and obligated to remain with them for the duration — the noxious notion of “embedding.”

Why noxious? Because living constantly with the same group for an extended period leads to identification with the group. Rather than cultivating the detachment so prized by journalists during the Vietnam War, reporters in America’s Iraqi invasions ate, drank, slept, partied with and depended on the same small group, invariably leading to an experience of war as us against them.

Couple with the ongoing downsizing of the increasingly consolidated mainstream media, journalism became less about questioning and much more about cheerleading.

Meanwhile, war itself was undergoing a transformation, epitomized in that radical new weapon of American war-making, the pilotless drone, operated from afar with joysticks by technosavvy geeks who grew up on videogames.

But that brave, new warfare exacted a price on both sides of the video screen, and digital warfare became a force for mobilizing its victims, a lesson the military failed to learn from World War II, where mass bombings of German cities failed to destroy civilian morale and even helped in prolonging German resistance.

In this, the latest edition of RT’s Going Underground, host Afshin Rattansi interviews Cian Westmoreland, an Air Force veteran who built the communications infrastructure of the drone program.

What he experienced there led him to become an antiwar activist and a leading opponent of drone warfare:

‘It Feels Like Murder’ – Obama Drone Program Whistleblower

Program notes:

Afshin Rattansi goes underground on drones. Cian Westmoreland, whistleblower and former drone technician for Obama’s top secret drone program talks about the indiscriminate targeting that means that civilians are dying when they are searching for terrorists. Plus how responsible are drones in the radicalisation of civilians?

Iceland’s president nailed by the Panama Papers


Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, the Icelandic president first elected to office in 1996 as a political science professor turned politician, has become the second national politician linked by the Panama Papers to offshore bank accounts, coming only three days after he denied an such connections.

The revelations come less than a month after the nation’s then-Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson was driven out of office over similar ties discovered in the massive leak of emails and files from a Panamanian law firm.

From the Reykjavík Grapevine:

President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson does in fact have connections to at least one offshore account, despite contentions to the contrary with CNN.

While the President told viewers of CNN that neither he nor his wife, Dorrit Moussaieff, have any connection to offshore accounts, The Grapevine has received documents that show this contention to be false.

The matter concerns a British company called Moussaieff Jewelers Limited (MJL), which is Dorrit’s family’s business. According to the Directors’ Report and Financial Statements for MJL in 2006, Lasca Finance Limited (LFL) – a company registered in the British Virgin Islands of which Dorrit’s parents are shareholders – was paid interest payments by MJL from at least 2000 until 2005, which was the last time we saw reported interest. Lasca also appears in the widely-reported Panama Papers leak.

In 2006, LFL all but disappears, and a new company appears in Hong Kong: Moussaieff Limited, of which Dorrit’s mother is the sole director and shareholder, and has been active through at least March 31, 2015. While not defined as a tax shelter by Icelandic law, Hong Kong does rank in second place on the Financial Secrecy Index.

Grapevine art director Sveinbjorn Palsson has created the perfect video mashup to accompany the story:

H/T to Birgitta Jónsdóttir.